Penélope Cruz steals Woody Allen’s latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) with her sultry and crazed performance as Maria Elena, artist and ex-wife of interminably sexy Juan Antonio played by Javier Bardem. Cruz and Bardem, who first worked together in Bigas Luna’s Jamón, jamón (Ham, ham, 1992) also shared screen time in Pedro Almodóvar’s Carne trémula (Live Flesh, 1997) and have worked with the director independently, including Cruz’s breakthrough international performance as Rosa in the Academy Award winning best foreign language film, Todo sobre mi madre, (All About My Mother, 1999).
As the young nun with a secret in Almodóvar’s memorable film, Cruz is part of an ensemble female cast including Almodóvar regulars, Cecilia Roth in the lead role of Manuela and Marisa Paredes as Huma Rojo with Candela Peña as Nina and Antonia San Juan as Agrado — who delivers some of the sharpest lines of the film:
Agrado: “I always thought I could make it big in the third world.”
Rosa: “Then come with me. I won’t be alone.”
Agrado: “The street’s worse every day here. The whores were bad enough, but the drags are wiping us out. I can’t stand the drags. They’re sleazebags. They confuse transvestism with a circus. Worse, with mime!”
Agrado is not alone in superb delivery. The many women that appear in All About My Mother are at times expressive, emotional and flamboyant and Cruz’s portrayal of Maria Elena in Vicky Christina Barcelona is inspired by Almodóvar’s characterisations penned over more than 35 years. Some of these standout films include, Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap (Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chocas del montón, 1980), The Flower of My Secret (La Flor de mi secreto, 1995), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, 1988), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Átame!, 1990), Talk to Her (Hable con ella, 2002) and Volver (2006) — in which Cruz played the lead role, Raimunda and was the first Spanish actress to earn a best actress Academy Award nomination.
Defined as a “screwball drama” by the director, All About My Mother blends the distinctive melodramatic flair that marks the auteur’s cinema with social justice issues such as organ donation, HIV-AIDS, gender identity and prostitution united by the thread of Hollywood legend and interconnecting subplots.
Dedicated by Almodóvar to “Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Romy Schneider… to all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.”
Eight years on, this film remains unforgettable.
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